The first Australian team in the Tour de France — that is the goal of Fly V Australia, a UCI continental pro team with an Aussie-heavy roster and an American race schedule for 2010.
To announce its long-range ambitions, Fly V Australia held a swanky party Friday night at Montage Beverly Hills in California.
Developing the first Australian ProTour team and taking it to the Tour is the brainchild of managing director Chris White, who went through a bout with cancer several years ago, according to team director Ed Beamon.
“He had a bit of an epiphany, and really wanted to something to contribute,” said Beamon. “He’s a longtime, passionate cyclist. And with all the success Aussie cyclists have had on the highest levels on the sport, the country has never had its own ProTour-level team.”
Beamon likened Fly V’s nationalistic mission to that of 7-Eleven, which energized American cycling years ago.
The Fly V team did its first American race last year at the Amgen Tour of California in February. For 2010, the squad bolstered its roster. The 15-man team includes 10 Australians, two South Africans and one rider apiece from the United States, Canada and Italy.
Phil Zajicek, who won the “Gila Monster” stage of the Tour of the Gila ahead of Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, returns as the team’s American rider.
“We’re going to win every race we line up for; the team is awesome,” Zajicek said. “We added a lot of talent this year, from Aaron Kemps and Ben Kersten to Darren Lill and Jay Thomson. There is no weak spot. There is no pack fill. We’re going to have an amazing sprint squad and an amazing stage race squad.”
South African Thomson, who recently won a stage of the Tour of Langkawi, will join Lill, Zajicek and Aussie Ben Day as the team’s GC riders.
“And Jai Crawford, he’s the best climber in the U.S. for sure,” Zajicek said. “We’ve got to work on his time trialing a little bit, but he’ll be a GC force.”
Despite the Australian sponsor, Australian roster and the decidedly Australian-centric mission, the team will race almost exclusively in the United States this year.
“The U.S. calendar fits perfectly within concept of developing a team for Europe,” Beamon said. “There’s more depth and breadth to the U.S. calendar than the Australian calendar. The quality of racing in America has come up dramatically in the last 10 years. By racing here, you can get a really good flavor of how they’ll perform in Europe. It’s not a 10-story leap to Europe anymore; it’s a much closer staircase.”
With a Tour de France berth as the big target, Fly V management hopes to upgrade from continental to pro continental status in 2011. Before then, a berth — and success — at the Amgen Tour of California in May is another goal.
First, the team will launch its American season with a pair of traditional season-openers, the San Dimas Stage Race and the Redlands Bicycle Classic in California.
“It’s an important block for all the teams in the U.S., everyone wants to do well,” Beamon said. “Ben Day being the defending champ at San Dimas adds a little spice. Ben and Phil are going really well. And Jay, if he makes the travel adjustment well, should be an exciting element. On the sprinting side, we have Jonathan Cantwell, Charlie Dionne, Bernie Sulzberger and Araron Kemps. They’re all guys with pretty good quickness.”
For Fly V Australia, the road to the Tour de France begins March 19 in San Dimas, California.
Fly V Australia Pro Cycling
Alessandro Bazzana (I)
Hayden Brooks (Aus)
Jonathon Cantwell (Aus)
Jai Crawford (Aus)
Ben Day (Aus)
Charles Dionne (Can)
Aaron Kemps (Aus)
David Kemp (Aus)
Ben Kersten (Aus)
Darren Lill (SA)
Darren Rolfe (Aus)
Bernie Sulzberger (Aus)
David Tanner (Aus)
Jay Thomson (SA)
Phil Zajicek (USA)